I Want to “Just Look”

I follow a hysterical blogger named Victoria Elizabeth Barnes who is always on the hunt for treasures and is redoing her house.  She reminds me so much of my younger self when my husband and I were buying old houses and had a great time (ha!) doing renovations.  I look back at one particular year spent without a kitchen, with two small children, washing dishes in the bathtub and it is hard to imagine how I juggled things.  Youth and the excitement of gutting your house must have made me oblivious to things that would be not so great now.  I also made some wild purchases, like when I bought a huge mirror (and not inexpensive), from a “Rocky” in Syracuse New York on Ebay!   He had purchased an old Victorian mansion and needed cash so was selling off some of the original pieces from the home.  I had to walk him through how to pack and ship it, and eventually it arrived safely.  Whew.

Mirror0002

We still like projects,  like the new barn we just built.  These projects give me an excuse to seek out treasures to use in the design/build.  It satisfies the urge to hunt for treasures.  But honestly, that urge has died down tremendously over the last decade.  This is due largely in part to the emptying of both my mother-in-law’s and my parents’ home.  That is enough to keep you from ever wanting to buy anything. Ever. Again.

This weekend is the Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza  that happens three times a year in Mt. Dora, Florida.  There are over 1500 dealers from across the country who spread their wares under acres and acres of live oak trees.  Over the years I have found some great stuff at this event.  Eventually you have enough stuff, but that doesn’t quench the antiquing thirst.  Therefore the inspiration to open a shop.   After giving up my full-time career of 20+ years to be home more with my family, I still needed a working/creative outlet.  I had purchased a small commercial building that my husband and I renovated with build-to-suit tenants…and I just happened to have 800 empty square feet with a huge display window.  I convinced my husband that I wanted to do a great display and help entice more retail to that end of the shopping community where we were located.  My initial plans were to recycle some of my antique finds and “fill in” with trips to the Merchandise Mart in Atlanta.  I was also only going to  have select days/hours, so that I could do the kid’s carpools for sports, etc..  I think we all know here what the reality was.  I got to go shop for really cool stuff that I liked, attend The Market twice a year, and fulfill a common dream of owning your own place.  The shop kind of took off, and with that came pressure to have more normal hours and so I had help come in the afternoon to spell me for after school duties.  I soon was immersed into the retail world of holidays and weekends. One of our tenants moved out so I expanded and had even more room for really great stuff. Things were sweet for about 5 years, and then the real estate bust hit Central Florida.  People stopped buying houses and accessories for them.  When one of my other tenants needed more office space, I quickly made the decision to shut down.  So we had the going out of business sale, paid off the bills, and that was that.  People still tell me they miss my shop and ask if I miss it as well.  I miss purchasing and staging the shop, but not competing with the internet and having no control over the economy.  At this stage,  I much more enjoy being the landlord and collecting rent.

Back to Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza this weekend.  Last year I found some great stuff to use in the new barn we were building.  I found tables and an unusual sink piece for my tackroom, and some great signage.  I found a really cool horse head out of teak that was way too expensive for me, but at this January’s Extravaganza I found one just like it for 1/3 of the price!  It now lives on our property on a tree stump and looks like it was carved there.

FarmSign         Horsehead

This past year we cleared out my mother’s home when she moved to a senior housing high rise.  She was on the verge of becoming a hoarder (without the dead animals and her house was clean).  She would tell you she is a “collector”. ( I must come by this hunting gene naturally).  Anyway, after dealing with all of her “stuff” and the extensive estate sale, it made me want less stuff of my own.  So when I called my antiquing buddy to see if she wanted to go to Renninger’s with me on Friday, she informed me that after spending the last month clearing out her now deceased parent’s home, she never wants to lay eyes on another old piece of anything.   I told her I was going to get in my steps on my new FitBit, by walking all of those acres and “just looking”. Right .

Bet You Can’t Just Have One!

HorseGirlSurprise

So just how does one end up with a herd of four horses when you start out saying “I’m getting a horse!”  Maybe I should start from the beginning…before we owned 200 acres in North Florida.  In the aftermath of the real estate downturn around 2010, I decided it would be an excellent investment to buy a lakefront property near my alma mater, Auburn University.  There were deals to be had on Lake Martin, and I was headed up to “shop”.  With an appointment with a broker scheduled for the following Friday, I get a phone call from my then 83-year-old father.  “I need you to go with me to Madison this week…what day can you go?”  Now this was an unusual request, as my father had been leasing a hunting camp up there in North Florida for about 15 years.  Women had not been encouraged or invited to go to this hunting camp.  So why now?  I told him I was busy this week…traveling up to Auburn and all, so how about next week?  No, he wouldn’t hear me, and insisted I was needed in Madison BEFORE I left for Auburn.  It’s your 83-year-old father…so you go.  I tell my husband, Matt, “I have to go to Madison on Wednesday this week with Dad.”  “Really? he asked.  Think I’ll go with you guys”. Hmmm.  On the three-hour trip up, they were like kids in a candy shop.  Something was definitely up.  Long story short, they had already picked out a 200 acre neglected farm, and I was just along to write and sign a contract, BEFORE I could find a property on Lake Martin.   I got hoodwinked.

The property consisted of 80 acres of timber, 80 acres of pasture, and 40 acres of live oaks and woods with an old house on it. The next two years were a lot of clearing and house cleanup.  It was a “guy’s” project.   The gift was that it gave my Dad, a retired orange grove and land owner, a chance to again be on a tractor and enjoy watching the land transform and come to life again.  Huge live oaks that were barely visible began to emerge as 25 years of neglect was cleared away from them.  That was worth the “bait and switch” right there…watching my Dad enjoy the property.  Within two years my Dad’s health began to fail, and he passed away after heart surgery and a brutally long period, in which he never recovered.  After his funeral in January 2013, just over two years after purchasing the property, I was up for the weekend with my family and was standing at the kitchen window gazing out at the 80 acres of beautiful Coastal Bermuda pasture and really missing my Dad.  Matt asked me if I was going to start coming up for some of the weekends now that the house was livable and our youngest would be going off to college in the fall.  I turned to him and said, “Yes…because I’m getting a horse.”  Not knowing anything about horses, he thought this was a fantastic idea!  Would give me a reason to come and something to do at the farm!  Poor guy, he had no idea what this meant.  I felt a tad guilty, knowing what he was unknowingly walking in to, but then remembered how we had come to own this property.  All guilt vanished and the journey began.

So the first horse shopping yielded two fine creatures, Pretty Boy and Dizzy.  I had to explain to the husband about horses being herd animals and shouldn’t be kept alone, so we were getting two horses, not just one.  “Oh,” he says, and looks somewhat concerned, which I just chose to ignore.   There was a lot to learn with those two, and I came to realize that they were not quite the horses I would want to put inexperienced riders on.  Oops.  So I started the search for the third “babysitter” horse.  Now I did try to explain all of this to my husband, but he just didn’t see the “need” for a third horse and would change the subject and say something like “maybe later”.

Of course, I found the perfect horse, Ernie.  Ernie lived in Tennessee and was to be delivered in a few weeks.  Plenty of time to break the news to the husband…until the transporter called and said he was making a delivery in  South Florida the coming weekend and could have Ernie there on Sunday.  This was Wednesday and we were driving up Friday.  Plenty of time to explain.  Somehow it just never seemed to be the right time.

Saturday yields tons of rain. Tons.  This is a problem as I need our caretaker Joey to mow the second pasture so I can keep Ernie separately from the herd across the fence until they are acclimated to one another.   I ask Joey on Friday, without any further explanation of course,  if he can get the second pasture mowed by Sunday.  He agrees to do so as soon as the rain lets up.  The rain does not let up.  Early Saturday morning I am over at my neighbor (and horse trainer) Barbara’s house.  She is conducting a small horse clinic for a few of her students and has invited me to come and observe.  As it is pouring rain, we are gathered at her kitchen table drinking coffee.  I am thoroughly enjoying her students who are ladies my age and have gotten back in to horse ownership later in life like me.  We are laughing about our horse escapades and I confide in them that I have a horse coming tomorrow, and I haven’t told my husband yet.  They immediately burst into laughter and tell me to join the club!  Apparently most husbands of horse gals just don’t quite get the need for multiple horses and it is commonly necessary to have them just show up.  This made me feel so much better…for  a while.

Throughout Saturday and early Sunday I am receiving text messages and pictures from Rodney the Horse Transporter’s wife, showing me how well Ernie is traveling and updating me on their arrival time.  The rain finally turns to a drizzle, and at my constant nagging, Joey gets the second pasture mowed.  We are standing under a shed and he asks what was the big deal of getting the pasture mowed?  I tell him it’s because of the third horse who will be here in about 30 minutes.  “THIRD HORSE?!” he exclaims, and quickly announces that he is getting out of there before Matt finds out.  I grab him by the collar and tell him he is not going anywhere because I need him to be there so Matt doesn’t kill me.  With that we both burst into uncontrollable laughter.  Just then my husband comes over and says what are you two up to anyway?  “Well”, I say, I was just telling Joey here that I needed the second pasture mowed so we can put Ernie the new horse there when he arrives…in about ten minutes.”  At that very moment a huge semi-horse transport is pulling into the front gate.  I run over to greet Rodney, who immediately unloads Ernie and asks where to put him.  I point to the second pasture and Rodney, not missing a beat, jumps into my golf cart and ponies Ernie to the pasture gate.  I pay him and he is off.  Horse transporters are on a deadline and don’t mess around.  I like Rodney.  No time for lengthy discussions.  Matt comes up to me and is basically speechless.  Here’s the best part.  Ernie is a beautiful Buckskin and the friendliest horse on the planet.  We drive into the pasture and Ernie comes galloping across the pasture to greet us and sticks his head into the cart right at Matt’s chest.  Guys love Ernie.  I think it’s the “John Wayne had a Buckskin horse” thing.  Thank goodness.  My husband didn’t say a whole lot until he said, “That’s a nice horse”.  I got real lucky.

Oh yeah, horse number four, Bear.  You see, in my world, four horses is the perfect number.  You ride off on two and the two left behind are content because they have each other.  It’s a herd thing.  Not to mention I needed another “babysitter” horse, or that he looks just like my first horse, Little Man.  You understand…and this time I told my husband in plenty of time.  The week before.  And that is how I ended up with a herd of four horses.

The Buckskin

The Buckskin

The Herd

The Herd

If My Friends Could See Me Now (Or How I Spend My Friday Nights)

I have a horse manure vacuum machine. You heard me right.  I vacuum up horse poop. A lot of it. Here is how this happened.  I have had to research every aspect of this mid-life horse thing.  As a kid with a horse…you did not worry about managing horse manure.  That was someone else’s problem.  My horse was a “pasture horse” in that he was turned out 24/7, so I didn’t even have a stall to muck out.  See how easy it was? That horse lived until his 30’s by the way.

Fast forward 40+ years and I am a horse owner trying to figure out all this out.  Manure management is a big topic of discussion.  So is turnout versus stalls…blah, blah, blah.  Everyone has an opinion, and here is mine (because I know you are dying to know!)…after tons of reading I have come to the conclusion that the most natural and healthy state is for a horse to be turned out 24/7.  They are designed to walk and graze for basically 18 hours a day.  Stalling a horse is for people!  It makes our lives easier, and enables humans to keep their horse’s coats from bleaching out in the sun and things like that.  Horses do need shade (we built a shade barn in the middle of the pasture where they can stand out of the sun), water, and hay in the winter when the pasture is dormant.  I also feed daily a small amount of grain to give them supplements.  I live in North Florida, which means the weather issue is easier for me, but we do get below freezing and I do not blanket my horses.  I let their coats grow out as nature intended, and blanketing them would interfere with their natural way of heating and cooling.  I do not stall them in cold, rainy weather (unless I am at the barn and grooming), because it is my opinion that as long as they have a shelter to stand behind out of the wind, they are fine. My horses are also barefoot because I believe shoeing a horse interferes with the natural flexing and blood flow to their hooves. I do have them trimmed monthly.   If I have offended anyone with my opinion, I am so sorry and will ask you to go to http://www.thesoulofahorse.com and see that I am grateful for Joe Camp’s wonderful experiences and for helping me to “get it”.  So to end this little rant, I have built a barn that is great in the summer (each stall has a fan) and winter to get out of the elements when that works for me (see how a lot of what we do with horses is about humans and not horses?).  I bring the horses in to feed some days, and some days they feed off from buckets on the fence.  During the time they are in the stalls, they poop.  Horses standing in poop is not good.

I have digressed.  What about this poop vacuum? Here’s how THAT happened.  So I am worrying about shoveling poop (not great for the back and horses poop a lot).  This horse thing is my deal, and I don’t have a stable boy (I need one) who is shoveling poop every day.  Since my horses are not in my barn constantly, when they are and they poop, I just pitchfork it out the back door of their stall into a little pile in the paddock behind the barn.  I then can come around on the golf cart with my hitched up poop vacuum and suck that stuff right up.  Voila!! No accumulating poop, which is a big deal in fly control.  I then go out into the pasture and vacuum up a full load (keeps the pasture poop down until time to drag it).  This nifty machine, by Greystone Vacuums out of Australia, (I bought my online through http://www.pasturevacuums.com, an American dealer) is a pasture vacuum.  Call me nuts (my ranch manager likes to introduce me as the lady that vacuums up her horse poop) but I like things tidy and it keeps my barn area really clean, and less manure is healthier grazing.  When I fill a tank, I ride out into our timber pines and dump the tank where I have manure piles.  Back to nature!

Thus the title of this post.  My city friends would be shocked to know that one of my favorite things to do when arriving at my farm, is to go and vacuum horse poop.  I have been known to be out until sundown, trying to get one more load up before dark.  Not too long ago our caretaker drove out to where I was on the golf cart and said “You know it is dark out?!”  Well of course I knew that…but I had the lights on!  I have been out in the pasture like that working  (and the horses always come over to check out my progress), I often wonder what would my “city friends” would think if they saw how I spend a majority of my Friday nights these days?  I have to admit there are not many other places I would rather be.

PoopMachine Shadebarn  Horsesinbarn